Inside: If you want a natural, unmedicated birth, a birthing center can be a great choice. However, you should consider both the pros and cons of birthing centers to consider before making a decision. Here is everything I considered about birthing centers before finally deciding on a hospital birth.
Home, hospital or birthing center… which is better for a natural birth as a first-time mom? Since addressing all of those options in one post would be writing a book, we’re just going to tackle birthing centers for now.
Birthing centers come recommended highly by natural birth advocates, especially if you don’t want to do a home birth. But just because it’s recommended doesn’t mean there aren’t pros and cons to consider.
Especially if you are a first-time mom who has never experienced labor and delivery before, a birthing center isn’t always the best option. Having more information from both sides can help you make the best possible decision for YOU (not your doula, not your birth course author, YOU).
After all, it’s your life, your birth, your baby. At the end of the day, the only one’s affected by your decision is you and your family.
So let’s dig into the pros and cons of birthing centers, shall we?
Are Birthing Centers Really Better for Natural Births? (the pros and cons of birthing centers)
We started our prenatal care for our first baby at a local birthing center. I really enjoyed the midwives’ hands-off (and naturally minded) approach to prenatal appointments.
It was important to me that I had a low intervention pregnancy and, ultimately, an unmedicated birth. I felt very supported at the birthing center and appreciated the way they offered medical options after sharing both risks and benefits.
At 25 weeks, my husband and I decided that, for financial reasons, we needed to transfer prenatal care and birth to the hospital instead of the birthing center.
I was really disappointed about transferring and was afraid that I wouldn’t achieve a natural birth in a hospital setting. Moreover, I figured I wouldn’t have an easy time sustaining a holistic pregnancy because of medical staff resistance.
Well, spoiler alert! I ended up highly satisfied with our experience at the hospital. I’ll finish up this post with my thoughts on hospital births, but first, let’s start with all things birthing centers.
The Pros of Birthing Centers
1. The medical staff is naturally minded and has a holistic approach that supports and encourages natural birth.
It is so empowering to have an entire team of people all cheering you on to have a natural birth.
It can absolutely a game changer to have a medical staff that supports and encourages your dream of an unmedicated birth.
The best part about having a holistic medical staff is that it doesn’t mean that you won’t be offered any modern medical interventions, it’s just that it’s offered only when necessary.
2. You can labor and deliver in a comfortable, homey room.
At a birthing center, you can labor in a cozy and comfortable room that is more similar to your own home than a hospital.
For many women, this is very important and can allow for labor to progress more smoothly (and faster).
3. Water birth is allowed and encouraged (not banned).
The benefits of water birth are backed by science and thousands of women who have had successful water births.
Water birth can help facilitate feelings of calm, safety and focus. They can shorten labor, reduce the risk of tearing, and more.
So, this is a big perk of birthing centers!
4. They deal with the mess of birth, which you can’t say for home birth where YOU have to deal with it.
Again, I just did not want to have to think about anything other than taking care of my newborn.
I also didn’t want my husband to be distracted with trying to clean up with the house… and for me to be helping him help me with afterbirth cleaning.
5. Birthing centers often offer more personalized care, with the potential to work one-on-one with a midwife.
It would’ve been nice to feel like I was the only person that my midwife/nurse was taking care of. Moreover, for practical reasons, it is good to have one consistent care provider so that your current medical information doesn’t slip through the crack during shift changes.
For example, it would’ve been nice to have only one person following along on our breastfeeding struggles.
Instead, because I was in the hospital, I had to explain what the last few nurses said to do every time a new nurse came in to help me.
The Cons of Birthing Centers
1. You are sent home after an average of 6 hours after birth.
This is both a pro and con – it depends on your birth and preferences.
I distinctly remember bawling my eyes out when I realized about 5 hours after birth that if we were at the birthing center we would’ve been packing up. That thought was so overwhelming (and so were my hormones) to me that I burst into tears.
But, I know women that say they wish they could leave the hospital sooner or that they love that they can go home quickly after birth from the birth center.
So much depends on your own personality and preferences. In addition, you may do just fine with a second or third labor but end up feeling very overwhelmed leaving so early if it’s your first birth.
Editor’s Note: A dear friend delivered her first baby at a birthing center. She was sent home six hours after birth, and then experienced a very strange episode of low sodium where she ended up back in the hospital for a day or so. They thought it was just an odd blip, but it turned out her pregnancy and birth had triggered a rare auto-immune disorder called Addison’s disease. She wouldn’t be diagnosed until more than a year later when she almost died from her symptoms. When I mentioned this post to her, she wondered out loud if she would have been diagnosed sooner had she delivered at a hospital. For her, the one major con of a birthing center (which she otherwise loved) was being sent home too early.
2. There are no meals delivered, no medications administered, and no on-site lactation consultants.
Not having meals delivered really isn’t too bad. No medications being administered is kind of crappy.
But, not having access to lactation consultants is downright terrible. Our firstborn would not have been able to nurse if there weren’t lactation consultants there to help us.
It is very possible that other birthing centers have more resources for breastfeeding help than I know of.
From what I do know, it would have been very hard for us to start our breastfeeding journey if we were at the birthing center because of our baby’s tongue tie.
3. Birthing centers have limited medical supplies.
The birthing center is designed to provide holistic care for laboring mothers. That means that the birth center will have some medical supplies but won’t have the more major modern medicinal options available.
This is both a pro and a con in some instances.
For example, even if you do end up wanting an epidural, if you’re at a birthing center it’s not even possible for you to get one unless you’re transferred to the nearest hospital.
For some mothers, it’s helpful that an epidural isn’t even an option. For others, it is scary and far too limiting.
4. You may need to be transferred via ambulance for c-section or any major complications.
Each birthing center has a slightly different protocol for when and why a birthing mother would need to be transferred to a hospital. Either way, it’s a possibility to consider.
Some birthing centers are located near, and even partner with hospitals to make these instances less scary and go more smoothly. This would obviously be the ideal scenario.
“The National Birth Center Study II showed that on average, about 4.5% of birth center clients will be referred to a hospital before being admitted to the birth center, 11.9% will transfer to the hospital during labor, 2.0% will transfer after giving birth, and 2.2% will have their babies transferred after birth. About 82% of the women who transfer during labor are first time moms. Fewer than 1% of transfers are for emergency situations.”-Birth Care Midwifery
5. The cost can be extremely prohibitive – you don’t want to start your parenting journey in debt.
Unfortunately, we live in a day and age when medical insurance still isn’t supportive of natural or holisitic health care. Many insurance companies don’t cover birthing centers as much as they do hospitals.
For us, this was the deal breaker. We did not want to start our parenting journey strapped for cash due to labor and delivery costs.
If you have your heart set on a birthing center, have the money saved, and are willing to put your money into that dream, then go for it.
But I would strongly encourage you not to go into debt based on where you deliver – it’s just not worth it, and you can have a successful natural birth in a hospital, too.
Why I Went with a Hospital Instead of a Birthing Center for My Natural Birth
The first major reason was financial. Insurance companies just don’t cover birthing centers the way they cover hospitals, at least not our insurance company.
While that was the original reason, after experiencing natural birth in a hospital, there were several pros to a hospital birth that made me highly likely to choose it again, including:
- Meals are delivered hot and ready, there’s no laundry to be done, and no dishes to do.
- YOUR health is attended to – medications administered, medical care for stitches and such, breastfeeding help, etc.
- Your BABY’S health is attended to – basic health checks, any specific health issues, and basic care (diapering, bottle feeding if needed, bathing, etc.).
In our specific case, I’m very thankful for the postpartum support team for moms, including lactation consultants. Our baby had a tongue tie that we wouldn’t have caught had we not been in the hospital with access to lactation consultants.
Of course, there were major drawbacks to having a natural birth in a hospital, including:
- People being in your room all.the.time. It’s hard to rest.
- While you can labor in a birthing tub, you can not birth in the birthing tub.
- The hospital’s sterile environment doesn’t feel cozy.
The biggest con to a hospital birth is that it can be difficult to follow a natural birth plan and natural afterbirth care with resistant medical staff. Simply put, it can be exhausting, confusing and irritating to feel like you are fighting medical staff to care for your health in a holistic way.
Our birth went smoothly and without strife because I tried my best to labor at home until the very last minute.
One nurse even said, “Well, she didn’t really give us a chance to even do some of these things. It’s too late.” after reading my birth plan.
Exactly the point.
After our baby was born, we were immediately given papers to sign, things to do, and were given lectures about standard health procedures that “needed” to be done right then.
My husband was scared and self-doubting all of our research after a doctor came in and explained in detail the worst-case scenario of denying a common medical intervention for newborns that we chose to forgo.
Ultimately, You Need to Weigh the Pros and Cons of Birthing Centers Based on Your Unique Situation
We will most likely be having a hospital birth for our next baby.
My experience at this particular hospital was great overall, although I am keenly aware that natural birth experiences vary widely from hospital to hospital.
I think having a natural birth at a birthing center would be lovely for a second birth and/or if it’s financially feasible for you. Having a baby at a birthing center is also a great option if you have ample support and help at home, like if you have a super-dad for a spouse, your mom can come to stay with you, or you’ve hired a postpartum doula.
But at the end of the day, you need to evaluate your specific set of circumstances.
If you have your heart set on a water birth and are willing to put money into that dream, a birthing center is the obvious choice.
But if you are extremely nervous about possible complications, all the homey rooms and personal medical care in the world won’t make up for the security and peace of mind a hospital can provide versus a birthing center that isn’t equipped to handle complications.
If giving birth at a birthing center is going to put you into debt – deep into debt – you may need to seriously consider a hospital birth, even if it’s not your first choice.
Take some time to journal about your dream birth, and consider your personality and that of your partner. Look at your budget and decide just how much the birth you want is worth to you financially.
After you’ve done those things, look over the pros and cons of birthing centers again. See how they line up with the above considerations, and I guarantee you will have more clarity on whether a birthing center is the right option for YOU.
Kenzie lives with her husband and daughter in beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She’s wrestled with infertility, survived a miscarriage, and is overjoyed to finally be a mama to her sweet baby girl she thought she’d never have. She especially loves helping moms who have had miscarriages find hope after loss.